Feeding Rabbits

As with humans, it is important that pet rabbits have a healthy, balanced diet. A good rabbit diet consists of four elements: hay, water, dried rabbit food, fresh food. Getting the mixture of the four correct is important to ensure that your rabbit stays healthy and does not become overweight. Rabbits are strict vegetarians, so never feed them any meat as it will not agree with their digestion.

Hay

The largest part of your rabbit’s food intake should consist of hay. A supply of fresh hay should be available to your rabbit at all times, as rabbits love nothing better than to sit and munch hay.
Plenty of hay will keep your rabbit’s digestive system moving correctly, which is very important to the rabbit’s health. Munching hay will also wear the rabbit’s teeth down so they will not grow too big.

Water

There is a myth that says rabbits get enough water from the fresh food that they eat. This is not true. Pet rabbits need a supply of fresh water to be available at all times. A bottle with a drinking tube attached to the side of the cage or hutch is ideal for pet rabbits, your rabbit will learn how to use this immediately. Make sure that the bottle is big enough for the water to last all day, and change the water at least once a day. It should never be allowed to get empty.

Rabbits can also drink from a bowl, but if you leave a water bowl in the cage or hutch, it could easily get knocked over, so a bottle is better.

Dried Food

Dried rabbit foods that are available from pet shops provide all the additional nutrients that your rabbit needs. Feed your rabbit according to the instructions for the type of food that you buy, and do not overfeed. Only a small amount of dried food is required. You should ensure that the rabbit food is one specifically for rabbits, do not use a food that is meant for rodents (rabbits are not rodents!), as it may have lots of nuts in it and the fat content could be too high.

Most dried rabbit foods consist of various different flakes and pieces. If your rabbit picks out some pieces but always leaves a particular type of flake or piece, it may not be getting all the required nutrients. Change to a food that has all the nutrients combined into just one type of pellet.

Any changes between types of rabbit food should be done gradually. Mix the last of the old food with the first of the new.

Barney and Jemima’s current recommendation is Wagg Bunny Brunch, which is a popular dried rabbit food, to be used in conjunction with plenty of fresh hay and water.

Fresh Food – Plants, Fruit and Vegetables

In addition to the above, you should give your rabbit small amounts of fresh food (e.g. plants, vegetables or fruit). There are many different fresh foods that are safe for rabbits; we have a list of some safe foods for rabbits.

Make sure any new food is safe for rabbits before giving it to your rabbit, but remember that sudden changes and new foods introduced to a rabbit’s diet can cause tummy upsets. Introduce new foods gradually, starting with just a small amount.

Feeding different types of fresh food gives your rabbit plenty of variety in its diet, and can be a nice treat. Fruit is usually fairly sweet with natural sugars, so should be fed in limited quantities to avoid the rabbit becoming overweight. Most rabbits love to be given a little piece of fruit as a treat!

Treats

There are many different types of rabbit treats that you may see at the pet shop; chocolate and yoghurt drops, popcorn sticks and various fruit or vegetable treats. These are safe to feed your rabbit (make sure you buy specific rabbit treats), but you should do so only in small quantities.

Rabbits have a sweet tooth, and will eat as much sweet food as they can fit in, not leaving room for the healthy food. If you give them too many treats, they will become overweight, and could have teeth problems as they won’t eat enough hay. Give treats in small amounts and your rabbit will be happy without getting overweight.

A small piece of fresh food is a good rabbit treat, as you know exactly what you are feeding your rabbit. Barney’s favourite treat is parsley, and Jemima loves a grape or two!

What Should Rabbits not Eat?

Rabbits can’t always identify foods and plants that are poisonous to them, so you must make sure that something is a safe food for rabbits to eat before feeding it to your rabbit. We have lists of some of the plants, fruits and vegetables that are safe foods for rabbits.

Re-Digesting

You may have seen your rabbit eating some of its droppings. This is so that they can digest food twice, and is completey normal for them to do. It helps in the wild where most rabbits live on poor quality grass, and need to digest it twice to get all the nutrients that they need.

30 Responses to Feeding Rabbits

  1. Sandra says:

    Hi
    I have a 6 lb female spayed miniature lop rabbit who is 7.5 yrs old. This is my first rabbit and I have had her since she was approximately 8 weeks old.

    Question:
    Is it normal for older rabbits to have really sensitive digestive systems?

    I have been dealing with loose stools for a few months. Stools are odorous, malformed, easily smeared, not usually runny, never watery. She has been to the vet and appears healthy with slight arthritis of the spine. These stooling events require bathing her bottom with warm water (no soap) to remove stool from her fur.

    Her normal diet consists of timothy hay (always available), oxbow rabbit pellets, well water, and lettuce (different types). These loose stool events are related to giving her treats such as tiny portions of raw vegetables (carrots, green beans, radishes, celery, green pepper, etc). Occasionally, these loose stools are caused by different lettuce (mustard greens, kale, romaine). Almost always she has loose stools with even the tiniest bite of banana, papaya tablet, or plain quaker oats.

    The obvious answer is to not give her these items but is this the normal for older rabbits? Is there something else I can do besides denying her the goodies?

    Thank you for your time

    • Richard Lord says:

      Hi Sandra
      A rabbit’s digestive system can change as it gets older, however the most common reasons for loose stools are insufficient hay and too much dried or fresh food, or a change to the rabbit’s diet. If there has been any change to your rabbit’s diet around the time that this problem began, e.g. different type of hay, different brand of food or different types of fresh food, this may be causing the problem.
      If not, there is probably something else happening. Rabbits normally produce two kinds of droppings – soft ones similar to what you have described and dry pellets. The soft droppings are normally eaten, allowing the rabbit to digest food twice to get the maximum benefit from it.
      Older rabbits and overweight rabbits often can not reach their hindquarters to do this or to clean properly. Rabbits with large dewlaps (like a double chin) can also have problems with this as they can not reach properly. As you mentioned that your rabbit is slightly arthritic, it may be that the problem is not the rabbit’s digestive system, but that it is unable to comfortably reach its hindquarters. The fact that you have to clean her bottom also suggests that she is not able to reach to keep the area clean.
      If this is the case, it is important that you continue to keep the rabbit’s bottom clean to prevent flystrike.
      You mentioned that your rabbit has been to the vet – was that to discuss this problem? I would advise you to discuss your individual case with a vet experienced with rabbits, including discussing whether the arthritis may be causing the problem, as they will be able to provide advice based on seeing your rabbit.
      Hope this helps
      Richard

      • Sandra says:

        Thank you for the response. I have emailed a few other sites but never a reply. So again, Thank you. I had not thought about the arthritis causing some of this issue. She is not overweight and her dewlap is not very large although I will pay attention to see if this may be another issue. I will make another appointment with the vet. I haven’t changed anything with food although I wonder if timothy hay can get old or stale. I buy the same brand, in the largest bag (96 oz) and store it in a dry area. I have checked to make sure it does not have mold or other things growing on it. The bag does have an expiration date on it but I always use it long before the date. Is it possible that timothy hay can get too old within a few months? If yes, what should I look for in order to identify it is too old?

        • Richard Lord says:

          Sandra
          You’re welcome – I’m always happy to talk about bunnies!
          As your rabbit is not overweight and does not have a large dewlap, I suspect that the arthritis might be the cause of the problem, but as with any issue that may be related to a rabbit’s digestive system, you are doing the right thing by going to the vet. Hopefully your vet will be able to provide confirmation of what the cause is.
          It may be possible that the hay could get stale after being stored for a while. Hay that is good usually has a sweet, dry, fresh smell. If it smells a bit damp or musty, I would replace it.
          My house rabbits Barney and Jemima are particularly fussy about having fresh hay and they refuse to eat it if it doesn’t smell fresh. It can be quite embarrassing in the pet shop having to sniff the bags of hay to find the nicest smelling one! :-)
          Richard

          • Sandra says:

            Ha! I can see a bunny lover doing just that! This is another good idea that you gave to me. The hay does not smell moldy or damp but it does not smell fresh and sweet either. So I think I will try a new bag of hay but I will still make the appointment for Chip to see the vet for a thorough check up. Thanks again. I have added your site to my favorite list!

          • Sandra says:

            Hi Richard,
            Just giving you an update to my rabbit’s sensitive digestive system. Changing to a new bag of Timothy hay and decreasing the food pellets has indeed corrected the digestion issues. It took less than a week to get her stools back to normal.

          • Richard Lord says:

            That’s great, I’m very happy to hear that the problem has been fixed and she is back to normal again. She must be feeling like a happy bunny now!! (and you too!)

  2. I hope someone can help me with a bunny problem I’ve been having (or my rabbit has been having ) a weepy eye problem for 4 months. My 3 year old male rabbit, Patch, lives loose on our 1 acre walled yard and generally sleeps in the laundry room at night or in the guest bedroom under the bed. We started renting the guest room out in June and one of the renters was so enthralled with Patch that she wanted to allow him to keep his sleeping arrangement. She let him sleep in the room.

    This is when his (left) eye began to weep. There is no redness, no swelling, no mucus…just this weeping and it seems to be in the area of the upper front part of the lid. Patch doesn’t mind my wiping it with a clean damp cloth…in fact he likes it. We live in Honduras, Central America and the vet speaks only Spanish…we survive in Spanish. The vet suggested eye drops (possibly thinking pink eye). I used them once and Patch started hiding from me when he would see me with the bottle. I stopped the drops and started making drops from Chamomile tea; it’s what we do for humans with pink eye. Patch seems fine with it and it helps a bit for a few days but if I stop the program the weeping returns. I first thought allergy, then fungus, then pink eye, now I just don’t know. Its been 4 months. The right eye is fine there is still no swelling, redness or discoloration to the eye or flesh around it. Has anyone ever heard of such a situation before? We have a cat and a terrier in the family too but have had them for a couple of years. Thanks in advance for any assistance.

    • Richard Lord says:

      Hi Malana
      Seems strange that it is only one eye that has this problem. That suggests that it is less likely to be an allergy to something, as that would probably affect both eyes.
      Sometimes weeping eyes can be caused by problems with the teeth, including overgrown (or upwards growing) teeth pressing against the tear duct or causing an abscess. An x-ray should indicate whether this could be the cause of the problem. There is some discussion of a rabbit weeping eye problem, including an x-ray picture showing an upwards growing tooth at the rabbit rehome forum.
      Has anybody else experienced something similar?
      Richard

  3. Lori says:

    It could many things, including a blocked nasolacrimal duct. Perhaps your vet can try flushing it out and see if that helps. If there is no blockage, a culture and sensitivity test would tell if there is a bacterial infection involved.

    What kind of eye drops did the vet prescribe? If they are antibiotic drops, be sure that they an antibiotic safe for use in rabbits. Here is a list of some common antibiotics and whether they should be used with rabbits:

    http://www.rabbit.org/health/antibiotics.html

    Good luck!

  4. Paige says:

    I have been on numerous websites and they say that a young rabbit needs more dry food than hay, and when it is older it needs more vegetables and hay than it does dry food.

    Is this true?

    What are the time scales for the feeding? For example, when do i cut down on dry food and increase hay?

    Are there any important factors I need to know about feeding?

    Thank you

    • Richard Lord says:

      Yes what you have read is correct, a rabbit’s dietary needs change from being a baby to a juvenile to an adult rabbit.
      Baby rabbits, up to about 7 weeks old need their mother’s milk, gradually introducing alfafa hay and pellets. The mother’s milk helps the baby rabbit to build up antibodies, and this also sets up the correct balance of bacteria in the rabbit’s gut to allow its digestive system to work properly.
      From 7 weeks of age, up to around 7 months, you should allow unlimited pellets as well as unlimited alfafa. From the age of about 12 weeks, you can start to gradually introduce vegetables, in small amounts and just trying out one new type of food at a time.
      Between the ages of 7 months to 1 year, alfafa and pellets should be reduced, and gradually replaced with a diet consisting mostly of timothy hay, grass hay or oat hay (or a combination). Pellets should be reduced to around half a cup per day for an average medium breed rabbit (around 6lb body weight), less for a smaller rabbit, slightly more for a bigger rabbit.
      After reaching 1 year old, the rabbit’s diet should consist mainly of fresh timothy, grass or oat hay, quarter to half a cup of pellets (for a average sized medium breed of rabbit) and a variety of vegetables. You can also introduce a small amount of fruit as a treat.
      In addition to the above, fresh water should always be available to the rabbit regardless of age. Make all diet changes gradually to allow the rabbit’s digestive system to get used to the change. If the rabbit stops eating, stops producing pellets or has diarrhea, take the rabbit to the vet quickly, because the rabbit’s digestive system can shut down very easily with any of these symptoms.

  5. Paige says:

    Thank you so much for your help :)

  6. Paige says:

    Me again, sorry for all the questions! I just always find something i’m not 100% on!

    My rabbit is 14 weeks old now, i give him constant access to dry food and hay. I have introduced tiny amounts of brocoli and carrot into his diet and plan to do so with other vegetables/greens.

    Am I introducing vegetables to early?

    Thanks.

  7. Paige says:

    Thankyou for your help

  8. Paige says:

    First of all, thanks for uploading the pictures of Gizmo!

    Now for my question. Well, i’ve had Gizmo for three weeks now which means he is 15 weeks old. He has grown considerably since I got him and he is also putting on weight normally. However, I don’t want him to become overweight because I know this is really unhealthy for a rabbit.
    He has an unlimited supply of hay, I fill his food bowl (two inches deep with five inch diameter) every morning, and in the morning or evening I give him his greens.
    Is this the time I start decreasing his pellet intake? Or do I carry on giving him the full bowl untill he is fully grown?
    Thanks
    Paige

  9. Paige says:

    Gizmo is now 5 and a half months old! :) He is growing fast and his personality has definatly come through! He is getting the chop in a couple of weeks time too!

    My question is, is weatbix safe for rabbits? As a rare treat? I have heard mixed reviews, some say it is fine, others say it is bad. I trust your judgement so I thought I would ask you!

    Thanks, Paige

    • Richard Lord says:

      Hi Paige :-) Good to hear you and Gizmo are still getting on well!
      Some people have fed things like Weetabix or porridge to rabbits that are underweight, but I’m not sure that this is a good idea. Breakfast cereals like Weetabix are high in fibre, but not the kind of fibre that rabbits need. Some can also be high in salt or sugar that is not good for the rabbit either.
      I would stick to little bits of fresh fruit or herbs as a treat. Barney’s favourite treat is Parsley, and Jemima’s is a grape!! Because of the high sugar content, only feed fruit in small quantities.

  10. Paige says:

    Thanks for the help :)

  11. Ashley says:

    my rabbit is one and a half years old and we’ve had him for almost three months now. His appointment for nurturing isn’t until November and he’s spraying certain parts of the house and trying to bite everyone’s feet (also trying to mount them). It’s getting painful and he’s adamant so much at times that we have to put him in the kennel for hours just to get some peace. He thinks once he’s in the cage that he gets numerous amounts of treats and won’t rest until he gets at least two or three.

    My question is that once he’s nutured will his libido slow down?? will the nipping and aggression when he’s locked in the cage stop??

    Also I don’t even know if I’m in the correct forum (google sent me here) I am having issues with my eyes (very red and leaky) someone told me that it’s pink eye and everyone is blaming Rabbit for it. Is that possible? He is somewhat litter trained other than the disgusting territory pills he keeps depositing around the house when he sprays but can the fecal in his litter box be tracked to when he jumps onto my bed??? I am currently trying to teach him to stay off the bed but he’s persistent and sometimes I’m not successful.

    Will the territory pills and spraying cease once he’s neutered?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Richard Lord says:

      Hi Ashley,
      The spraying, nipping and mounting behaviour that you have described is territorial behaviour. Neutering rabbits usually decreases or stops this, as territorial and aggressive tendencies are reduced. It may take a short time after neutering for his hormones to balance out before you see any change.
      When training your rabbit, be firm but gentle. For example, every time he tries to go on the bed, remove him and say no firmly. If he goes straight back on, put him in his cage for a short period of time. Don’t give him a treat when you put him in his cage after doing this as he will think he’s getting a treat for going on the bed. Give him treats when he does something good, in this case, you could try giving him a little treat occasionally when he is staying on the floor.
      I have read that pink eye or conjunctivitis can be caused by a variety of causes including allergies and bacteria. It is possible that it is related to your rabbit, and maybe you have a minor allergy. I would suggest visiting your doctor to discuss the causes of this.
      Richard

  12. Susie Stone says:

    Hi Richard, Thank you for your last reply it was very helpful. As I said before we are new rabbit owners and our baby lop Tipsy is 9 weeks old and she seems to eat all the time! We are feeding her in the morning but by lunch time she has nothing left, we are also giving her hay to eat as well as fresh water each day – is this nornal, we were told to fill her bowl (normal rabbit bowl) half full with the food the breeder give us which seems to be a mixture of pellets and muesli ( we could only get nuggets from Pets at home, what would you recommend?) We have been letting her out every day for half and hour to an hour for exercise, do you recommend this my daughter is afraid she will get wild as she loves this and does not want to go back into her hutch, she is jumping and having appears to be having great fun. We have also noticed she seems to be eating her hay. I am cleaning her cage out every 2nd day and using compressed wood shavings on the bottom and then staw and hay. The breeder we bought her from only used hay, could this be the reason she appears to be eating the straw. Thank you for your help, we are really enjoying our new rabbit but it is a bit daunting we just want to make sure we are doing this best for her and dont have anyone to ask Susie

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